Monday, March 28, 2011

The Big Loop

For a number of years, we have been referring to one of our general MTB routes as 'the big loop'. This actually finds it's roots in the old BAD-ASS (Bedford Area Daring All-terrain Sixty Something) ride, which was started back in the last century and ran for a few years in a row. The ride was an all-terrain metric century and was modeled after the ATMC, an excellent, well planned and well led ride that traveled from Boston to the North Shore, linking together numerous known riding destinations with chunks of conservation land and minimal sections of roadway. Some where along the way it was also determined that rides of this magnitude should only be completed on single-speed bikes and so the trend started and so it has been since.

A few years back the BAD-ASS was resurrected and ended up being the tightest of the rides we'd ever run, also laying down the most distance ever with 76 off-road miles. All was going well and we were almost complete, literally just a couple miles of rail-road bed from home when a final sprint started up and the chase ensued when disaster struck and Davy crashed broke himself. This necessitated emergency personnel and evacuation.

Over the years we have tuned and refined a big off-road loop that incorporates many or most of the same trails and certainly the same principle areas. Beginning last year I started to add a new destination area into the mix, Russell Mill in Chelmsford. So in general, the 'the big loop' will include aspects of Estabrook Woods and Great Brook State Park, starting from and finishing in Bedford and using public ways and conservation lands as connector trails. This will result in a 30 - 50 mile ride depending on the level of possible trail usage that is completed in each respective area.

To that there are a couple of other wild-card options that can be added, the PR and Russell Mill. Both areas are comprised of tight and twisty trails where the miles add up much slower than in the other areas. Typically the PR would be hit first and would net about 15 miles but would take more than an hour and a half to get through, best case. The railroad bed connector to Estabrook Woods is about 5 miles and is really fast and then the woods themselves are mostly colonial era roadways which are rocky, rooted and pock-marked which beats you up, but still travels pretty quickly. In fact, most of the rest of the trails except for a few more technical trails in Great Brook are fast.

However, adding Russell Mill in puts the most technical trails well into the second half of the ride, at the furthest point from home. It also means that you increase the risk of mechanical and physical issues late in the game. On the upside, the trails are very good and a complete run through the area doesn't take but an hour or so. The addition of these trails also puts the trip mileage total in the 45 - 85 range, depending of course on how much of the previous areas you rode prior to your arrival in Russell Mill and of course, how much you end up doing on the way back home.

At present we have not attempted the full loop with all of Russell Mill. If this was done using the same terrain choice as during the last BAD-ASS we would be pushing nearly 90 miles. That's a serious amount of miles on a mountain bike and a whole lot of time in the saddle. For rides like this, the rule of thumb is 10 mph as the average and that is if you maintain pretty good momentum and don't suffer from technical issues. It also assumes minimal stops all together. Of course, the bigger and more diverse the group, the less likely that is to happen and the longer you would need to plan.

That brings us to this past weekend. Saturday was sunny, but cool and windy. Not a great day to be out on the road suffering. The normal ride group (aka Johnny Mo and I) geared up for some extended off-road, I on my aging Sworks Epic 26er and he on his spiffy new Epic Carbon 29er. We got a bit of a late start as we needed to monkey around with the chain keeper on his single front ring which had allowed the chain to drop but disallowed it from being put back in place. Those keepers are excellent at that; keeping the chain off when it drops and ensuring that you will never get it back on without removal of the guide.

The plan was to hit the PR and beyond (with my personal goal being a 50 mile ride) and see what happened. John also neglected to obtain any tubes for his new wheel platform but did have a nifty patch kit with him. We were off and started ripping the mostly frozen, dry leaf covered, tight and twisty trails. Traction was good when trails were bare but the corners with leaf cover were slick and required extra attention. Soon John requested a stop to extract air from his nearly semi slick race tires. I cautioned lightly but mostly bit my tongue.

Some time later more air was coming out and later again a bit more. It was shortly there after that all of the air was extracted from the rear tire with the first flat. This hole was found and patched and re-inflated to a more reasonable pressure. Unfortunately, it was assumed that the hole was a pinch-flat but as it turns out, it was likely a thorn which resulted in a slow leak, resulting in a snakebite in almost the same location on the tube of all things. I discovered and extracted the thorn while John applied patches two and three and re-aired the tire.

After that we looped a bit more and made our way out and towards Estabrook Woods with a pit stop at the local bikeshop for some tubes. Naturally because we now had spare tubes there were no further flats. In fact, the rest of the ride all of the way through Estabrook and by Kimball's and past the Llama's and into Great Brook was mainly nondescript save for some extended sections of deep snow as we entered Great Brook. We also encountered some deadfall and brush in the trails as well as quite a bit of packed snow on the XC ski trails, but for the most part it was all rideable.

It wasn't until we made our way to Russell Mill that it dawned on John that this little adventure was taking up some serious time and that he actually head a deadline that we may need to work at in order to meet. We did a few trails but cut it a bit short and started heading directly back. Shortly after exiting the area John's drive side crank arm loosened and started to fall off. This also caused the chain to fall off. The ride home was going to be direct and at a gingerly pace. At that point in the day it was fine with me. We bombed back on the road until we jumped onto the old Billerica narrow gauge railroad bed and spun our way back to Bedford. Total mileage was short of the goal but not by much. We had 48 according to my computer and 46 according to my GPS with just under 4.5 hours moving time. A solid haul.

All in all, a great first shot of the season at 'the big loop' and a great day on the mountain bike. Now of course it has me lusting for a new rig. Will see how that goes though. My current rig though a few years old is just fine.

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